How A GOP Whisper Campaign To Smear Hillary Clinton Found Its Way Into Mainstream Media

Right-Wing Media, Then Mainstream Press, Ran With Bogus State Department Scandal Started By Republicans

Right-wing media outlets -- led by Fox's Megyn Kelly -- helped the GOP execute a whisper campaign falsely accusing Hillary Clinton of committing perjury when she left the State Department and demanding to see a separation document to prove their charge. After the Associated Press accepted the premise that a separation document should be produced, the State Department made clear that neither Clinton nor her predecessors, Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, were required to sign that document.

RNC Baselessly Speculates Clinton May Have Broken Rules With Regard To Signing State Department's OF-109 Separation Statement

AP: “The Republican National Committee Used The [News] Vacuum” To Gin Up New Scandal. The Associated Press (AP) reported on March 9 on an effort by Republican Party leaders to spark a new scandal concerning Hillary Clinton's email, who capitalized on a lack of news to plant a story that Clinton either committed perjury by signing a State Department exit form or flouted the rules.  

"The Republican National Committee used the vacuum Monday to keep the pressure on Clinton, noting a State Department policy requiring all outgoing employees to turn over job-related materials before leaving. The policy required such employees to sign a 'separation statement' declaring they had 'surrendered to responsible officials all unclassified documents' related to official business during their employment.

Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement the 'fact that Hillary Clinton did not abide by the same rules her State Department employees had to comply with is just the latest example of how the Clintons think the rules don't apply to them.' Clinton left the State Department in early 2013. It was not immediately clear if Clinton signed the agreement but State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the secretary of state is supposed to follow such department policies. A Clinton spokesman did not immediately comment." [Associated Press, 3/9/15]

Republican National Committee: State Department Employees Must Sign A Separation Statement Upon Terminating Employment. On March 10, the Republican National Committee (RNC) published research expanding upon Priebus' statement, highlighting a 2003 State Department regulation that requires employees to sign an OF-109 form upon leaving the department. The form requires employees to surrender all unclassified documents relating to official government business. [Republican National Committee, 3/10/15]

Right-Wing Media Trumpet The RNC Report

National Review Online Sparks Widespread Conspiracy: “Did Hillary Clinton Commit A Crime?”  On March 11, National Review Online (NRO) contributing editor Shannen Coffin wrote an article titled, “Did Hillary Clinton Commit A Crime?” In it, Coffin parroted RNC talking points and asserted that the State Department requires “every departing official” to sign the OF-109 form, which acts to “certify the return of all government documents under the penalty of law.” Coffin continued, saying "the one document in all of this that we need to see, if it exists, is Hillary Clinton's Form OF-109.

Did Hillary Clinton sign such a certification upon her separation from government? Did she knowingly swear that she had returned all records, when in fact she had retained at least 55,000 pages of official e-mails (and perhaps more)? And if she did not sign such a certification, why not? Every other departing employee and official of the State Department is required to do so. Did she ignore her obligations to return the records and thus avoid a false certification? It seems that the one document in all of this that we need to see, if it exists, is Hillary Clinton's Form OF-109. [National Review Online, 3/11/15]

Fox's Megyn Kelly: Hillary Clinton May Have Committed A Felony By Violating Form OF-109. On the March 11 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File, just nine hours after Coffin's NRO article hit the web, Megyn Kelly interviewed Coffin about the OF-109 form. Kelly called on the State Department to publicly release the status of Clinton's separation form. The host then steered the interview toward the issue of legality, asking if Clinton committed a felony.

KELLY: She either did that certification to the State Department untruthfully. Right? She either said they had everything when they didn't, or for some reason, she didn't do it. And we asked the State Department for and answer to that.

[...]

KELLY: If she signed it, as you read the law and the manual itself which refers to the criminal code, if she signed that -- saying she'd given them everything back, every federal record that she had in her possession, when in fact she had thousands of documents, thousands of emails sitting in her home server - did she violate the law? Did she commit a crime?

COFFIN: If that's the case, there's no question. The form itself says, hey, before you sign this, understand that you are certifying something that we can prosecute you for. Making a false statement in this context, knowingly and willfully - which, I can't imagine anything more knowing and willful than knowing you have 55,000 records sitting in your home - if you do that, it is a felony. [Fox News, The Kelly File, 3/11/15]

Fox's Andrew Napolitano: If Clinton Signed OF-109, “She Probably Committed Perjury.”  Speaking to Bret Baier on March 12's Special Report, Fox legal analyst Andrew Napolitano added to the blossoming chorus of conservative talking heads certain that Clinton likely broke federal laws. Napolitano told the host if Clinton signed the State Department's entrance or exit forms, “she probably committed perjury.”

BAIER: We don't know whether Hillary Clinton signed it or not. What do we know?

NAPOLITANO: There are two forms that she had to sign. She had to sign one on day one, in which she took an oath to preserve in the government's possession, government records. If she signed it and two weeks later diverted the government records to her husband's server in Chappaqua, New York, she probably committed perjury. Second one, the one that you've identified that Megyn revealed last night, you sign in your last day in office in which you say, I have returned to the government already, it's in the past tense, the government's records. If she signed that and did so under oath, as the document requires that you swear to it, she probably committed perjury. We don't know if she signed this, but we do know no one in the government would be authorized to exempt her from these documents. [Fox News, Special Report with Bret Baier, 3/12/15]

Fox Devotes Numerous Segments To Scandalizing Clinton Over Form. Fox News heavily covered the Clinton form OF-109 controversy over the following days. For example, Kelly covered the story on the March 11, 12, 13, 16, and 17 editions of her show. [Fox News, The Kelly File3/11/143/12/143/13/153/16/153/17/15]

GOP's Separation Form Speculation Leaps From Conservative Media Into Mainstream Press

March 12: Fox's Lucas Tomlinson Raises Issue Of Separation Form At State Dept. Press Briefing. At a State Department press briefing on March 12, Fox News' Lucas Tomlinson asked department spokesperson Jen Psaki about the separation statement speculation.

TOMLINSON: Right, but did Secretary Clinton - a former DOJ attorney has asked if - under department policy, asked if Secretary Clinton, like all officials here in this building when they depart or separate from office, has to sign something called a form OF109. It's a separation statement declaring that when you leave office, you're turning in - turn over not just classified materials, but any documents for official purposes. Did she sign --

PSAKI: Sure. I think this was asked - it was more than two years ago. I don't have an update on that specific question at this point. [State Department Press Briefing, 3/12/15]

March 13: AP's Matt Lee Brings Up Separation Form At State Dept. Press Briefing. On March 13, Associated Press correspondent Matt Lee asked Psaki about the OF-109 form, saying, “yesterday you were asked if you knew whether Secretary Clinton signed a separation statement ... I just want to know if she signed it or not.”  [State Department Press Briefing, 3/13/15]

March 16: AP's Lee Again Asks State Department Spokesperson Whether There Is A Record Of Clinton Signing A Separation Form. During the State Department's daily press briefing on March 16, AP's Lee again asked Psaki whether a record existed of Clinton signing the separation form, suggesting that it “can't be that difficult” to answer the question, because “the human resources department presumably has a file on every employee.”  [State Department Press Briefing, 3/16/15]

March 17: AP's Lee Pushes State Department Spokesperson On Whether Clinton's OF-109 Form Exists. During the State Department's daily press briefing on March 17, Lee again asked Psaki whether she could “put to rest” questions about whether Clinton signed a separation form or not. [State Department Press Briefing, 3/17/15

GOP's Fabricated Scandal Falls Flat -- Clinton Did Not Sign The Separation Form, Neither Did Her Predecessors

State Dept. Spokeswoman: No Record That Clinton Signed Separation Statement Upon Leaving State Department. On March 17, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki explained in a press briefing that after looking through Clinton's documents at the State Department, they “do not have any record of her signing the OF-109,” and in addition, “we did not locate any record of either of her immediate predecessors signing this form.” [State Department Press Briefing, 3/17/15]

Former Secretaries Of State Did Not Sign The Form. On March 17, the State Department explained that neither former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice nor former Secretary of State Colin Powell signed a separation form. The Washington Examiner's Byron York reported this fact as “exculpatory” and noted that as a result of this news, “no conclusion can be drawn” about Clinton's failure to sign a form. [The Washington Examiner3/18/15]